Posts Tagged ‘Sleaze’

Tom Easton on the Israel Lobby and Spurious Accusations of Anti-Semitism

May 3, 2016

I’ve just posted a piece about Tom Easton’s review of Michael Neumann’s The Case Against Israel (Oakland: CounterPunch/ Edinburgh: AK Press) 2006. Written by an author, who declared himself to be ‘pro-Jewish’ and ‘pro-Israel’, the book was fiercely critical of Zionism and the continued occupation of the West Bank. Easton’s introduction to the review of the two books is also extremely relevant and worth quoting. Easton was writing when Mearsheimer’s and Walt’s The Israel Lobby was published in the US. This was attacked as anti-Semitic, even though it mostly said what everyone already knew, and what had been pretty much said already. The New Statesman over on this side of the Atlantic had made a similar attempt to write about the subject four years earlier, but was also heavily criticised as an anti-Semitic for daring to do so. Easton writes of the controversy surrounding these pieces

In a year in which Israel’s attacks on Lebanon and Gaza were accompanied by more stores of New Labour loans and the arrest (twice) of Tony Blair’s fundraiser and Middle East ‘envoy’ Lord Levy, it would have been good to have seen British publications examining how Israel is bound up with the politics of its allies. But apart from the decision in March by the London Review of Books (LRB) to publish US academics John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt on the Israel lobby in their country, Britain has seen no serious recent initiatives on that front.

The New Statesman (NS) made a stab at the job in 2002, but suffered very heavy criticism for its ‘anti-Semitism’ from, among others, the then Labour general secretary and now Foreign Office minister and colleague of Lord Levy, David Triesman. In the week that I write this, the award-winning NS political editor Martin Bright describes ‘Blair’s twin shame of Iraq and cash for honours’ as ‘on the one hand, a foreign policy catastrophe; on the other a classic domestic sleaze scandal’. Several American writers, including one of the two authors under review, try to investigate links between ‘foreign policy catastrophe’ and ‘domestic sleaze’. One wonders how many years will pass before the NS will feel able to return to the subject of Zionism and New Labour, and when the LRB will feel able to run a piece on the Israel lobby in the UK.

When journalists and academics tiptoe around this elephant in the front room of British politics they leave a gap in our political understanding that is important for at least two reasons.

One is that the links between Israel and its supporters in Britain are a legitimate subject for inquiry given the extent to which those advocating terrorist tactics here often identify themselves as critics of Israel. If, as Home Secretary John Reid said in October, the ‘war on terror’ now demands the ingenuity shown by Barnes Wallis and Alan Turing in opposing Nazi Germany, we are surely under a democratic obligation to ask how matters have come to such a pass that our traditional liberties are being so readily and uncritically jeopardised.

A second reason is that the ‘war on terror’ agenda has now become indelibly linked in the minds of many with hostility to Muslims, a recipe for serious difficulties in a society as diverse as Britain. This is paralleled in some circles with talk about the ‘clash of civilisations’ stimulated by Bernard Lewis and Samuel Huntingdon soon after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

The work of Benjamin Netanyahu and the Jonathan Institute (Lobster 47) et seq.) in promoting the ‘war on terror’ agenda to serve the interests of Israel goes back well before that time. But once the Berlin Wall fell, the blame for terrorism switched from the Kremlin and KGB to Israel’s neighbours and Islamic radicalism. Yet virtually all of the British electorate remains in ignorance of the origins and purposes of this strategy.
(Lobster 52, Winter 2006/7: 40).

As the spurious accusations of anti-Semitism levelled at Naz Shah, show, Easton’s comments still remain acutely topical now, nine years after he wrote them.

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Vox Political on Yvette Cooper Condemning Renationalisation

February 23, 2016

Mike over at Vox Political also has a piece from the Independent about Yvette Cooper. Apparently, she is set to make a speech attacking the nationalisation of industry as an old, discredited idea. It will not help modern workers, according to her, or those trying to ‘build an app’. Mike therefore asks if she’s deliberately trying to mislead people about the issue in defending ‘wasteful’ privatisation. See http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/02/23/is-yvette-cooper-deliberately-misleading-people-about-nationalisation/.

Now I agree with Mike that privatisation is wasteful. It also led, paradoxically, to a massive increase in bureaucracy. This expanded massively when the utility companies, including that for water, sewage and the environment, were sold off and separate regulatory bodies had to be set up. In order to try and keep to their promise that selling off Britain’s family silver would reduce bureaucracy, they had to cut down on the regulatory bodies so that they wouldn’t have so much power, and wouldn’t represent the interests of the consumers. And there was also the usual revolving doors between the civil service and the privatised utility companies, where the mandarins who were supposed to be watching them in the public interest did no such thing, and later got a job with them after they left Whitehall. I can remember reading report after report on this, fortnight after fortnight, in Private Eye in the ’90s. It was all part of the sleaze surrounding John Major’s administration.

I’ve also heard that, despite the impression given by privatisation that all aspects of energy generation, and its supply, and that of water and gas, the actual infrastructure remains the concern of the state. The private utility companies get to cream off the profits, but the actual maintenance of the national grid, pipes and so on remain the duty of the state, which bears the financial burden. Now I’ll have to check on this, but if it’s true, then privatisation really has been just a scam with minimal benefit to the consumers. Quite beyond the very obvious profiteering we’ve seen by the energy companies themselves.

Now let’s come to the example of the information technology industry she used. It won’t help workers developing an app, according to Cooper. Now, the free marketeers just love the computing and information technology. Look, they say, at the way a group of private individuals in the 1970s – Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and others, built a whole industry from sheer private enterprise, all in the garages or spare time or whatever. The Financial Times had a go at this myth, as did Adam Curtis in his documentary, All Watched Over By Machines of Loving Grace. The Financial Times pointed out that the kids, who were able to create the modern computing industry, were able to do so not because of the free market, or because their part of California had excellent schools, or indeed any of that. They were able to get ahead and develop it because they were all already very wealthy, and could afford to develop their creations. And Adam Curtis in his documentary went and showed that the mathematical basis behind the suggestion that private enterprise gives better results through allowing people to co-operate independently and form a coherent strategy without a central planner was also baloney.

And if you want a real counter-example, then try France. The French computer industry was created in the 1970s through the efforts of the French state. And the French have been very successful in their efforts. So central planning, nationalisation and state investment can help create jobs in the high technology sector. Even in America, my guess is that much of the technology sector is supported by generous state subsidies, regardless of what Cooper believes or think she knows about the benefits of laissez faire industry.

Now I have to say, I think Cooper genuinely believes that private enterprise is superior to nationalised and state-owned industry. It’s a basic item of faith of the New Labour clique. And she also has a point about nationalisation not necessarily benefiting workers. Harry Gosling, the founder of the T&GWU with Ernest Bevin, made a speech in Bristol stating that nationalisation wouldn’t do so unless it involved a degree of worker’s control. And proper representation of the workforce in the workplace is what trade unions are for. It’s also what the Labour party was set up to do. Unfortunately, Blair, Broon and New Labour decided that they didn’t. Just before one of the two left office – I can’t remember which one – they passed a whole tranche of legislation actually weakening the unions. Moreover, on the government website telling you what rights you had under the law as a worker, there was also a secret section for employers that told them how they could circumvent all this. So there’s an element of hypocrisy there. Cooper’s against nationalisation, because it wouldn’t help the workers. But Blair wasn’t keen on organised Labour either. I can remember how he threatened to cut the ties between the unions and the Labour party.

And there’s more, much more to be said about this. I’ll blog about the foundation of the nationalised industries some other time. But for now, the opposite of what Cooper said is true: privatisation is discredited, and the privatisers of New Labour have also shown themselves unwilling to act for the poor or the working class either. It’s why UKIP took off so spectacularly. And while their leadership are privatisers on steroids, most of the grassroots members actually want the utilities nationalised. The Angry Yorkshireman wrote several pieces about this, all of which are worth reading.

Tory Ex-Cabinet Ministers Given Jobs in the Industries They Supervised

January 12, 2016

Mike over at Vox Political reported a piece in yesterday’s Mirror, that five former members of Cameron’s cabinet had found jobs in the very industries that it was their business to supervise. See his article http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/01/11/gravy-train-scandal-as-ex-ministers-join-payroll-of-industries-they-used-to-oversee/

Mike rightly points out that Private Eye has an occasional column about this, ‘Revolving Doors’. It’s a fine old Tory tradition, though one which Bliar and New Labour also took up with enthusiasm. Before Blair took power, however, it was a real scandal under John Major. Then there was a series of scandals of cabinet ministers and senior civil servants taking up jobs in the very industries that they had helped to privatise. This was attacked in the British press as ‘sleaze’.

On the other side of the Channel, the French have very strict rules against such conduct. There are laws against it. I think one of them, which has been proposed by the Eye, is that there should be a two year wait before a cabinet minister or senior civil servant can take up such a post. The reason businesses take on former ministers and mandarins is to get hold of their address book of useful contacts. While this has gone on in just about all area of politics and the economy, some of the most blatant examples have been with former defence ministers getting jobs with arms companies. A two year wait for such posts would vastly cut down on this, as by that time their diaries and lists of friends and associates would be well out of date. There’d be absolutely no reason for firms to hire them.

This, however, is too much like good sense and genuine, disinterested government, for the politicos and apparatchiks at Westminster and Whitehall, and so it stands absolutely no chance of being introduced over here. I suspect if someone were to suggest it, they would be taken aside by the latest incarnation of Sir Humphrey Appleby, and quietly told that what they were doing was ‘courageous’. Or they’d try some other way to circumvent and undermine it.

The French, meanwhile, were spectacularly unimpressed with what they saw as our failure to take the matters as seriously as it should. One French minister interviewed by the Financial Times stated quite clearly that simply calling it ‘sleaze’ misrepresented its true importance. ‘What you call ‘sleaze’, he said, ‘we call corruption’.

So let’s call it like they do in la Belle France: Five Tory ministers have corruptly taken up jobs in the industries they supervised while in government.

Vox Political on Afzal Amin and the EDL March against the Megamosque

March 22, 2015

Mike over at Vox Political adds a few more details to the scandal about the Tory MP, Afzal Amin, and his connections with the EDL. According to the Mail on Sunday, Amin was hoping to use the EDL to boost his own electoral success by bizarrely posing as an anti-racist. In his piece Conspiracy claim will drive voters away from the Tories , Mike reports that

According to the Mail on Sunday, Mr Amin encouraged the English Defence League (EDL) to announce a march against a new “mega-mosque”. The paper said he planned for the march to be scrapped so he could take credit for defusing the situation.

Mr Amin denies the claims, but the Conservative Party has stated that it is a matter of serious concern and has suspended him as a candidate.

Like Broxtowe, the seat- Dudley North – is another Tory marginal, though Mike reports that it probably won’t be for long. Voters will see this as yet more evidence that sleaze is coming back into Cameron’s party. Especially coming after Cameron won’t release the new honours list, in case even more Tories are revealed to have been crooks.

Mike’s article is at http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2015/03/22/conspiracy-claim-will-drive-voters-away-from-the-tories/.

Vox Political: Eurostar Sold by Tories to Tory Donor

March 10, 2015

Mike over at Vox Political has posted this piece, exposing the latest bit of corruption from the party nicknamed ‘The Selfservatives’, Eurostar sell-off: Isn’t this interesting? It reports that Eurostar has been sold off to Hermes LLP, one of whose shareholders, Michael Glendonbrook, has donated extremely lavishly to the Tory party. Glendonbrook also has shares in two other companies, whose boards are also adorned by David Gamble, Hermes’ chairman.

The stories over at http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2015/03/04/eurostar-sell-off-isnt-this-interesting/.

This is yet more corruption from the party that seems to be vying with Bliar’s administration to be the most flagrant example of ‘crony capitalism’. It’s precisely the same kind of policies that made John Major’s administration notorious for ‘sleaze’ in the early and mid-1990s. Like Cameron, Major was keen to privatise state industries, which were then sold to companies with the same MPs and civil servants on their boards, who were in charge of the very same privatisation.

The French on the other side of La Manche, remarked that they had legislation in place to prevent such corrupt sales of public assets. Indeed, one French official remarked ‘You call it sleaze. We call it corruption’.

It also shows something about the Euro-scepticism in the Tories. It appears to be less resentment at the interference of a foreign, corrupt bureaucracy, as the Euro-sceptics angrily shout, and more bitterness at the fact that the fact that there is a large, supra-national legislature that actually occasionally does have morals higher than theirs, and dares to hold them to account. Hence the determination to jettison not just Europe, but the European Court of Human Rights and all the international laws protecting British citizens from persecution by their own government.

MPs and NHS Privatisers: Lord Darzi

February 1, 2015

n4s_nhs1

I’ve blogged recently about right-wing entryism into the Labour party through Demos and other thinktanks set up by Tony Blair’s New Labour. New Labour also carried on and expanded the Tories’ policy of the gradual privatisation of the NHS. Readers and commenters at Mike’s blog over at Vox Political have repeated questioned the failure of many Labour MPs to attack the Tories properly on their manifestly cruel and unjust policies towards the poor. Well, they’re manifestly cruel and unjust, unless you’re a reader of the Sun, Telegraph and Daily Mail. Then they’re exactly what this country needs, and anyone who doesn’t have an income of £50,000 a year is a scrounger, who deserves all they get. Part of the problem is that under Blair, the Labour party became ‘Labour Plc’, as the title of one book on the subject declared. MPs developed very close links with the companies hoping to profit from the privatisation programme, and provided cosy directorships and other lucrative posts for MPs when they left government.

Lord Darzi

Lord Darzi: Health Minister under Gordon Brown, subsequently joined GE Healthcare.

Lord Darzi, Gordon Brown’s health minister, is a case in point. Private Eye ran two stories about him in 2009 and 2010. The first marked his departure from government by describing his meetings and links with a number of commercial firms, including banks and private healthcare companies. The second story the following year was on how he had joined one of these private healthcare companies, GE Healthcare. Together these stories illustrate how privatisation can provide a lucrative career for MPs seeking to profit from the privatisation of the NHS, whether they are Labour or Tory.

The first story comes from Private Eye’s edition for 24th July – 6th August 2009.

NHS PLC
Buy-Buy from Him

Lord Darzi’s departure as health minister in Gordon Brown’s “government of all the talents” is a blow for the prime minister, but it’s also a pain for the bankers, private health firms and consultancies who have spent so many hours talking to him.

No doubt they hoped his Next Stage Review of the NHS would lead to the creation of lots more privately funded and run clinics, all set up with loads of management consultancy help. But their gains have been modest so far.

Following freedom of information requests, it emerged that in 2008 and 2009 so far, Darzi had meetings with bankers NM Rothschild & Sons, Apax Capital, UBS Investment Bank and Cinven; with private medical companies Humana Care UK, Humana Europe, United Medical Enterprises, GE Healthcare and the MCCI Medical Group; and with computing and management consultants from IMS Health, IBM, Capita, Dr Foster Intelligence and Serco Solutions.

The minister also had a couple of meetings with Boots the Chemist (which employs former health minister Patricia Hewitt). But now all these executives and lobbyists are going to have to go through the whole process again with another minister (who will probably only be in the job until the election in the first half of next year).

The second story about Darzi was published in the Eye’s edition for 25th June – 8th July 2010.

Revolving Doors
Healthy Appetite

Lord Darzi, the former Labour health minister who has taken a job with GE Healthcare, the medical corporation, was just the first through the revolving door as ex-Labour ministers snap up jobs in the private sector.

The US firm has multiple contracts with the NHS for scanning and IT work – and Darzi had official meetings with GE Healthcare shortly before he stood down last year. He has joined GE’s “healthymagination” board, an initiative that the records show he discussed with the firm when he was a minister.

Darzi says he will only take expenses for joining the US board and will put the rest of the cash into his research fund at Imperial College, London. GE, however, hopes to profit from “healthymagination”, which is a branding and marketing exercise. The company recently ran into controversy when it tried to sue Danish academic Henrik Thomsen for libel in the London courts after he raised safety concern over one of its drugs. The firm dropped the case after a public outcry earlier this year.

The Labour party did not invent the ‘revolving doors’ between government, the civil service and private industry, by which the officials and ministers involved in privatisation took up lucrative posts afterwards with the very private companies either created from or purchasing the former nationalised industries. It began in the 1990s under John Major, where it was a large part of the ‘sleaze’ marking his administration. The French, however, have legislation against it. According to the Financial Times, when a French official was asked about Major’s privatisations and the sleaze, they replied, ‘You call it ‘sleaze’. In France we simply call it ‘corruption’.’ Which is something to think about the next time the Mail goes berserk at the cheek of Johnny Foreigner, and particular the French, to criticise fine upstanding British institutions.

Unfortunately this corruption didn’t end with Gordon Brown and New Labour. It has continued with the Cameron’s and Osborne’s renewed campaign to privatise the NHS. There are at least 92 coalition MPs, who stand to profit from this. One of them is Iain Duncan Smith, the Minister for Incompetence and Killing the Disabled.

This cannot be allowed to continue.

Ed Miliband has promised to reverse the Tories’ plans to privatise the NHS. He deserves our full support.

From 2011: Government Appoints A4E to Design Contracts for Private Welfare Schemes

April 8, 2014

This is another story from Private Eye, this time from 2011. According to the Eye for 30th September – 13th October 2011, the government was awarding A4E the contract for designing the rules under which A4E, amongst other contractors, would bid to provide public welfare and social services.

Welfare Reform

Contract Claws

The Cabinet Office has appointed A4E, one of the government’s biggest contractors, to design the kind of contracts for which it will itself bid.

A4E will design the “payments by results” rules for the welfare contracts funded by “social impact bonds”, the government’s new big idea for public services. By putting its main welfare contractor in charge of designing welfare contracts, the department is effectively repeating one of the central failure of the private finance initiative.

The contract is worth up to £300,000 and covers pilot schemes in four regions to help families with multiple problems. Private investors fund welfare and social work schemes and the government then pays the investors back over years based on the public money “saved” by unemployed people finding work or ex-offenders staying out of jail.

The Cabinet Office is seeking “more innovative financiers, with a bigger appetite for risk”, so it will take very tight contracts to prevent these aggressive investors getting big returns over long periods for ill-defined “savings”, as the PFI example shows. Asking A4E to guarantee the “robustness of the savings estimates” seems perverse as the firm has repeatedly failed to give good results on its existing welfare-to-work contracts (Eyes passim), and it has every interest in government contracts being as soft as possible.

A4E may be excluded from bidding for the contracts it is drawing up in Birmingham, Leicestershire, Hammersmith and Westminster (all Conservative councils); but exclusion is not automatic; A4E is being asked to guard against “cream skimming/cherry picking” and ensure “value for money” – but critics say that A4E is itself guilty of the former and does not offer the latter.

Such conflicts of interest and soft corruption are, of course, no strangers to welfare reform and the public-private contracts governments since Maggie Thatcher’s have pursued. The Skwawkbox today blogged on the close links between George Osborne and the company, which bought up many of the Royal Mail shares at a discount. Way back in the 1990s, one of big accountancy firms being employed by Major’s government to adjudicate the bids of companies competing for a government contract, then decided to bid themselves as they decided they were the best candidate. A4E in this instance is merely part of a long line of such cases. It was all part of the ‘sleaze’ of the Major years, of which a French politician said ‘You call it ‘sleaze’. In France we simply call it corruption.’ The point of such contracts in any case isn’t to guarantee quality of service, or provide transparency and accountability, but simply to award lucrative government money to big companies that will then reward the politicians concerned with directorships.